These fragments abounded in such numbers in certain spots, that it appeared as if waggon-loads of earthenware had been smashed to pieces. The broken sea- shells and pottery are strewed both on the surface, and throughout the whole thickness of this upper loamy mass. I found them wherever I examined the cliffs, for a space of between two and three miles, and for half a mile inland; and there can be little doubt that this same bed extends with a smooth surface several miles further over the entire plain. Besides the little included irregular layers of small pebbles, there are occasionally very obscure traces of stratification.

At one of the highest parts of the cliff, estimated 120 feet above the sea, where a little ravine came down, there were two sections, at right angles to each other, of the floor of a shed or building. In both sections or faces, two rows, one over the other, of large round stones could be distinctly seen; they were packed close together on an artificial layer of sand two inches thick, which had been placed on the natural clay-beds; the round stones were covered by three feet in thickness of the loam with broken sea-shells and pottery. Hence, before this widely spread-out bed of loam was deposited, it is certain that the plain was inhabited; and it is probable, from the broken vessels being so much more abundant in certain spots than in others, and from the underlying clay being fitted for their manufacture, that the kilns stood here.

The smoothness and wide extent of the plain, the bulk of matter deposited, and the obscure traces of stratification seem to indicate that the loam was deposited under water; on the other hand, the presence of sea-shells, their broken state, the pebbles of various sizes, and the artificial floor of round stones, almost prove that it must have originated in a rush of water from the sea over the land. The height of the plain, namely, 120 feet, renders it improbable that an earthquake-wave, vast as some have here been, could have broken over the surface at its present level; but when the land stood eighty-five feet lower, at the period when the shells were thrown up on the ledge at S. Lorenzo, and when as we know man inhabited this district, such an event might well have occurred; and if we may further suppose, that the plain was at that time converted into a temporary lake, as actually occurred, during the earthquakes of 1713 and 1746, in the case of the low land round Callao owing to its being encircled by a high shingle-beach, all the appearances above described will be perfectly explained. I must add, that at a lower level near the point where the present low land round Callao joins the higher plain, there are appearances of two distinct deposits both apparently formed by debacles: in the upper one, a horse's tooth and a dog's jaw were embedded; so that both must have been formed after the settlement of the Spaniards: according to Acosta, the earthquake-wave of 1586 rose eighty-four feet.

The inhabitants of Callao do not believe, as far as I could ascertain, that any change in level is now in progress. The great fragments of brickwork, which it is asserted can be seen at the bottom of the sea, and which have been adduced as a proof of a late subsidence, are, as I am informed by Mr. Gill, a resident engineer, loose fragments; this is probable, for I found on the beach, and not near the remains of any building, masses of brickwork, three and four feet square, which had been washed into their present places, and smoothed over with shingle during the earthquake of 1746. The spit of land, on which the ruins of OLD Callao stand, is so extremely low and narrow, that it is improbable in the highest degree that a town should have been founded on it in its present state; and I have lately heard that M. Tschudi has come to the conclusion, from a comparison of old with modern charts, that the coast both south and north of Callao has subsided. (I am indebted for this fact to Dr. E. Dieffenbach. I may add that there is a tradition, that the islands of San Lorenzo and Fronton were once joined, and that the channel between San Lorenzo and the mainland, now above two miles in width, was so narrow that cattle used to swim over.) I have shown that the island of San Lorenzo has been upraised eighty-five feet since the Peruvians inhabited this country; and whatever may have been the amount of recent subsidence, by so much more must the elevation have exceeded the eighty-five feet.

South American Geology Page 45

19th Century English Literature

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book